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Hurrah! I finished my romantic YA gothic fantasy novelette at last! "House of Secrets" (a veeery tentative working title) is about 12,000 words, and I wrote the last line last night, which felt deeply satisfying. This is my birthday week - I'll turn 38 in a few days - and it's nice to have finished something new just beforehand.

This is also a week of half-term holiday for all the schools here in Wales, so MrD is home with us, doing "running training!" at the local park and reading through the Bunnicula books at home. Today we went into town to do some urgent clothing-shopping (since MrD is growing at a startling-to-me rate), and found a restaurant for lunch that had a big sandpit in the back garden, which made both little boys really happy. I'm trying to get a little bit of writing done every day during this holiday week, but of course it can't be my main focus.

I am thinking a lot about my writing, though, which is part of why I just signed up for this year's Clarion West Write-a-Thon, which raises money for scholarship funds to Clarion West. Since I could never have attended the workshop without the generous scholarship they gave me - and going to that workshop was the best thing I ever did for my writing - this is a cause that I'm passionate about! So I sign up every year for the write-a-thon, and you can see my goals for this year here. If you're able to sponsor me, even for a very small amount, I'll be really grateful - but even if not, I'll appreciate any cheering-along this summer! (The write-a-thon starts on June 21st.) I don't mind slowing down my writing during occasional, week-long school holidays, but 6-week summer breaks are a different question. I'll need all the accountability and motivation I can get to manage a good writing output over MrD's summer off!

(Also, if you're a writer, you can sign up to the write-a-thon now to get yourself that motivation, accountability, and a support group of fellow write-a-thon participants!)

And if you like finding out about other people's writing processes...

Amy VanDerwater is runing a fun online project, Sharing Our Notebooks, where writers, artists, and anyone else who regularly uses a notebook can share photos of their notebook pages. I shared two pages from the notebook I kept while I was first-drafting Kat Book 3 (Stolen Magic/A Reckless Magick). As you can see, at that point (somewhere in the first third of the first draft of the novel, I think) I really had NO idea how it was all going to get resolved, or even exactly what was going on yet! ;)

But that's my eternal process: start writing without an outline, then sit down with a notebook, write out all the themes that are starting to reveal themselves through the draft-so-far, and ask myself questions about plot, characters, etc., until I figure out the answers. Luckily, it generally works out in the end!

And, er...come to think of it, that's not so terribly different from how I handle life in general. Erm. I might have to think about that one!

I hope you guys are having a great week!

(Oh, and if you're looking for a good book to read in the coming month, I just finished Hilary McKay's new book, Binny in Secret, and I *ADORED* it. You can read my review here!)
Last night was a rough night. MrD had the worst nightmare of his life, so I ended up staying with him for about 40 minutes in the middle of the night, helping him to feel safe, and then Toddler X woke up for good at 5:16. Add in hard rain from a dark gray sky, and I was feeling pretty zonked & zombie-ish this morning - and far more tempted to spend my child-free morning pointlessly surfing the internet than writing more of my novelette*...

...But I made myself settle into the writing anyway. Aided by Dario Marianelli's gorgeous, atmospheric soundtrack to Jane Eyre (perfect music for my romantic YA Gothic fantasy novelette!), I wrote 982 new words - and guess what arrived just at the end of my writing session? An early copy of Hilary McKay's new book, Binny in Secret!

Hilary McKay is probably my favorite childen's writer ever, and she is absolutely one of my favorite writers in any genre, so this really did feel like Christmas. I dived into Binny in Secret as a perfect reward for my morning's work, falling more and more in love with every page...and by the time I looked up again for lunch, three chapters later, the rain had stopped

It's a blue-skied, sunny day outside, at least for now. My novelette is growing steadily.* And oh, is Binny in Secret wonderful - quite possibly my favorite Hilary McKay book so far. (Which is saying a LOT, since I love so many of her books! Her Casson family books, in particular, are the main reason I became an MG writer.) It's one of those tricksy books that starts out funny (and I mean, really funny - I laughed out loud at one particular scene in the first chapter!) but then gradually and smoothly turns around on you to become totally heartwrenching...but still with genuinely funny moments. In other words: total LOVE.

What about you guys? What are you reading this week?


*Yes, this is the same piece that I described as a short story last week. It has been growing! (And growing!) Every day for the past few days, I've finished my writing session and thought, Hmm. Feels like about 3,000 words left! Every. Single. Day. Oops! ;) It's a novelette for now...let's just hope it doesn't turn into a full-blown novella!

(I'm happy with the way that the story feels, at its growing length; it definitely wouldn't work any shorter; but it is, undeniably, much harder to sell longer pieces like this to any magazines! Oh well. A very good and smart friend wrote recently to me: "Every time someone writes what she truly wants to, it’s a victory for all creatives." And I know it feels good to me to stretch myself and write something different from time to time! So: this novelette is making me happy, even as it continues to expand...and if worst comes to worst and it gets too long to sell to any magazines, I will just release it as an ebook original, like Courting Magic. Hooray for having lots of options nowadays!)

(But also, if anyone knows of any fabulous YA anthologies looking for novelettes, please do let me know!)

Writerly Panic, Trips, Books and Tea

Ohhh, writer-brain. I spent the last week or so getting more and more panicked about the fact that I didn't have any sparkly, compelling ideas for a new novel to write. (And it had been, like, almost two whole weeks since I'd finished revising the last one!) Then this morning I woke up with 2-1/2 new novel ideas all jostling for position in my head, all of them cool...and promptly thought: But how can I ever choose? And what if I choose The Wrong One????

Sigh. Time to make another cup of tea. I wish I had a calmer and more quietly productive writer-brain, rather than one that apparently operates best on panic-mode. (That's how it always worked with academic papers, too.)

On the upside, the last few days have included some really nice outings with my kids, including a trip to our local market, a play session on the grounds of the local castle (which all the kids in town love - it's a great place to run and climb), and a trip out to a fun children's play at the theater.

I also fell totally in love with Amy Bai's high fantasy novel Sword (you can read my review here), and I'm really enjoying the Firefly-style SF novel I'm reading now, Becky Chambers's The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. So it's been a good reading week.

At some point soon, I'll sort through those new novel ideas and start to make some notes (and some hard choices, too). In the meantime, I'll start quietly reading some research books related to them, just in case...and keep on writing the YA gothic fantasy short story I've been playing with just for fun.

And I'll try not to let myself panic about any of it. ;)

Toys, Eggy Bread, and Authors for Nepal

Today, Toddler X and I went to playgroup, where he was very busy with a variety of important toys. Then Patrick picked us up and we headed off to our local polling station to vote in the UK election. Now Toddler X and I are relaxing from a morning of good work on both our parts with eggy bread (made by Patrick!)...but I had to take time out to mention this:

A whole bunch of writers, agents and editors are involved right now in Auction for Nepal, an online auction designed to raise money desperately needed for Nepal. There are all sorts of offerings, from signed books to the option of having characters named after you in an author's next book, and more.

My own offering just went up last night: I'm offering to critique either a full short story or the opening of a novel, up to a maximum of 12,000 words. If you're interested, you can bid here. And even if not, do check out the rest of the auction, because there are so many great offerings!

Witches and iPad Apps

Today I'm over on Girls Heart Books, celebrating some of my favorite witches in literature. Come share yours?

And right here, I also wanted to share a recommendation for a free app I got for my iPad from the iTunes store (based on another writer's private recommendation), "Stop, Breathe and Think." It's a meditation app, it's really simple, and it's made a genuine difference for me. Whenever I start feeling really jittery or really depressed nowadays, I turn on the app, I use their basic diagnosis tool (of how I'm feeling at that moment, to determine which kind of meditation I should do), and then I pick one of the short guided meditations that they offer. (Today's was only 6 minutes long.)

And so far, I've always, always felt better afterwards.

What about you guys? Do you have any apps you really love on your phone or tablet?

Dragons, Tiaras, Movies, and Books

Wooot! I just finished a new draft of my MG dragons-and-chocolate novel and emailed it off to my agent for the very first time. Hurrah! Needless to say, I immediately made myself a strong, dark hot chocolate in celebration. :)

The last week was a frustrating one in terms of the M.E., but it was a great revision week anyway, which made me feel better about everything. I was greatly helped by two of my favorite inspirational tools: the dragon figurine that Patrick gave me for Christmas (to help me write the first draft of this novel!) and the writing tiara (which used to be my wedding tiara) that I wear whenever I need extra confidence.

Patrick and I also made it out to the cinema BY OURSELVES for the first time since last August, which was an incredible treat - especially because it was to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was my most-anticipated film this year! No spoilers, but I thought it was great, and I came out absolutely determined to hunt down an action figure of the Scarlet Witch to stand on my writing desk (or writing bed, depending on the week) for inspiration.

And Episode #2 of the Worried Writer Podcast came out last Friday, with me as the interviewee! You can listen to it here. Sarah and I talked a lot about writing process, productivity, discipline, life challenges and compassion. It was really fun to chat with her, and I hope you enjoy listening to it. Sarah's a really lovely, generous person and writer, and I was so glad to be a guest on her podcast.

Oh! And I can't forget to mention that I've read two great MG books in the last week - Candy Harper's Perfectly Ella and Jennifer Cervantes's Tortilla Sun. They're very different from each other but I loved them both! (The links are to my Goodreads reviews.)

Now it's time to pick up another book...and start writing another one, too (while I wait for the next round of revision). Whew!

Writing, Reading, Crashing, Basking

I'm back! Back to writing, that is. I decided to take the last 9 days off, because I really needed the downtime (creatively, mentally, physically - I just really, really needed that time off). It was the right thing to do, because I'd hit that stage of all 'round exhaustion where I felt just empty, creatively speaking. Halfway through my time off, that started to change - I felt ideas buzzing around, waiting to be noticed. By the end, I was DESPERATE to get back to writing, feeling as if I might burst if I waited any longer. But I made myself wait out the whole time, to really fill up the creative well and also just take the much-needed rest.

It was definitely the smart thing to do. But ohhhh did it feel good to start writing again today! I spent this morning revising the first four chapters of my MG dragons-and-chocolate novel, based on smart, helpful crits from other writers. I'll do lots more drafts over the next few months as more crits come in - this is nothing like a finished version - but it felt SO good to be playing in that world again, and doing exactly the thing that makes me feel the most perfectly challenged and the most fulfilled. There's nothing like forcing time off writing to make me appreciate just how good writing really feels.

And Toddler X is finally (knock on wood!) sleeping much, much better, for the first time in over 21 months. WHEW! It's going to take a looong time to catch up on 21 months of serious sleep-deprivation (especially since my new, good nights are only about 6 hours each - 8-hour nights are still a distant dream on the horizon), but still, that makes a huge difference.

Unfortunately, the M.E. has been seriously acting up, which is really frustrating. Over on Facebook on Friday (in a public post, which you can read even if we're not Facebook friends yet), I posted a #sickdayselfie along with a post about why I'm trying hard nowadays to capture those moments, too, instead of hiding them away. So, yeah. I've been crashing hard with the M.E. for the past several days. Today is the first day I'm starting to feel like I'm on an upwards curve again, and that's a really precious feeling. But now that I'm losing the post-baby burst of energy that came with Toddler X's birth, I'm also working hard to manage the inevitable health decline with all the positive coping strategies that I've learned across the years.

I spent the worst part of the crash last week reading and re-reading a bunch of Julie James's rom-coms for adults, which always cheer me up with their fun, sizzling 30s-style screwball rom-com banter. (My two favourites are Love, Irresistibly and Something About You, but I like or love almost all of them.) And last night I read a fabulously fun MG historical novel, Karen Cushman's Alchemy and Meggy Swan. Ferocious, prickly Meggy was such a fantastic heroine, her voice swept me away from the first page, and her adventures in Elizabethan London were just ridiculously fun. I loved Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy, too, so I really, really have to hunt down more of her books!

And it's been really lovely to see more reviews popping up even now for my own novella, Courting Magic. Gail Carriger wrote a wonderful review of it that made me really happy. (Here's the pull-quote that I will DEFINITELY be adding to my website soon: "It is a blast of fresh air, pure romantic joy." Eeee!) And just in the last 24 hours, multiple bloggers and librarians have posted other lovely reviews that made me smile. "Courting Magic" was the biggest gift I gave myself last year - the opportunity to write that story just for my own personal satisfaction and to make myself happy - and it's so, so great to see other people continuing to discover it and enjoy it.

So! That's been my last week. This coming week, I'll be focusing on trying to get a new draft of my MG dragons-and-chocolate book ready to send my agent by early May, while also working on some new adult-book thoughts and plans that I'm not quite ready to share publicly yet. And - just like I'm doing right now, as I type - I'll keep on spending as much time as possible sitting on the lounge chair in our sunny garden, soaking up the sunshine with Maya-dog curled up in the grass beside me.

It's a good feeling.

Downtime, changes, and a café invitation

Oof. We've been doing sleep-training with Toddler X for the past few days, and oh am I tired (especially since last night was far, far worse than the three nights before). Add on the fact that we just finished up a two-week school holiday, and all in all, I've decided to let myself take a few days of very rare downtime between writing projects to rest and refill the well. That means lots of reading, lots of time spent basking in the sunshine in our garden, lots of playing with knitting projects, and lots of listening to podcasts and favorite albums.

I also finished Naomi Novik's Uprooted, and oh, was it good. You can read my full review on Goodreads, but the short version is: pre-order this book if you love smart, fun romantic fantasy with creepy, original magic, fairy-tale resonance, and great female friendships!

In small but personally important news, I also used some of my downtime to finally, finally go get my eyes checked, for the first time in far too many years. For the past few months, I've been getting a lot of eye-strain and headaches, but I always thought: I've got so little child-free time, I need it for my writing. I can't waste it on frivolous eye appointments!

Well, I finally went in yesterday, and...yeah, I should have done it a lot earlier. Oh well! I'm torn between looking forward to my new glasses (because the frames are fabulous and the prescription should take away my headaches...eventually) and dreading them (because it's a huge prescription shift, so the optician warned me they will probably really hurt for the first 2 weeks). Oh well. At least I'll look cool! (In a typically geeky way, of course.)

And in the BEST news by far, I just got the dates for our American trip this summer! WOOT! We'll be in Michigan for several weeks, and I cannot wait. It makes me so happy that we've been able to finally start spending significant time back in my hometown every year. I love being a dual citizen, I love being British as well as American, and I love living in beautiful Wales - but Michigan is where I grew up, it's where most of my family and my oldest friends still live, and in many ways it will always be home for me. I'm so much happier when I'm rooted there, too.

A couple of people have already asked whether I'll be doing any official author events while I'm there. My guess is probably not, since I won't have a new book out at that point (and bookstores, etc., usually prefer to host authors with new books to promote) - but it also occurred to me that maybe we could have an informal get-together instead for anyone who reads this blog/reads my books/etc? There's a wonderful independent bookstore in Lansing, Schuler Books, that has a nice café. If you'd be interested in being part of a get-together there one day in early August, just send me an email at:

contactform at stephanieburgis dot com (deleting all the spaces between words, and replacing the "at" and "dot" with their symbols)

- and I'll make sure to keep you in the loop for that! Sadly, I doubt I'll have any ARCs of Masks and Shadows by then, but Patrick might well have ARCs of his upcoming MG adventure novel, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by then, so we might even be able to pass that around as a bonus. But mostly the idea would just be to sit around with me and Patrick, eating brownies, drinking coffee, and talking about books for an hour or so in person instead of just online! :)

(And obviously, it's also just another excuse for me to go shopping at Schuler's. Er...we'll just call that "research," okay? ;p )

What about you guys? What are you looking forward to this summer?

Sunny Days, Good Books

The weather has turned shockingly sunny and warm here in Wales, so this has been a week of hanging out with my kids in our front yard, the local park, and my mother-in-law's gorgeous garden, all of us in short-sleeved shirts and often with bare feet, too. The return of warm weather feels like such a miracle every year. Everything's brighter and happier and more full of possibilities, even in a very tired week (as this one was for me, for various reasons).

Because I am so tired this week, I'm bouncing back and forth between books rather than sticking with just one all the way through - I don't have the attention span for that! - but oh, am I reading some really good books right now. Naomi Novik's upcoming Uprooted is AMAZING - it grabs me in just the same way that Robin McKinley's Beauty and Meredith Pierce's Darkangel did when I was a teenager. It manages to be really warm and an insta-comfort-read at the same time as having an incredibly creepy (nearly horror-y) magical issue at the core of it. AND it's romantic. And fun! Hugely, hugely recommended.

I've also been (finally!) reading Mallory Ortberg's Texts from Jane Eyre: and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, and oh, I haven't laughed this much over any book in a very, very long time. It's my favorite humor book...well, maybe ever, honestly. If you're a lit-geek, I can't imagine you not loving it, too.

And Tatum Flynn's new MG novel The D'Evil Diaries is just enormously fun, in the vein of Rick Riordan - fun, funny, high-spirited fantasy adventure for kids. A great new discovery!

What about you guys? What are you reading right now?


Whew! I finished the first-pass revision of my dragons-and-chocolate MG novel last Friday and sent it off to a handful of brave volunteers for critique. I spent about four hours thinking that ooh, maybe I'd just take the rest of my older son's school holidays off...and then realized, no. I really can't stop myself from writing! So I started a new (romantic, gothic, historical) YA fantasy story yesterday morning, just for fun. But still! No deadlines. I'm feeling very relaxed.

And as you can see, I've had JUST the right kind of Easter. ;)

(Although I am somewhat concerned about the fact that these are "Darc Marc" truffles...will I be chained to Voldemort forever if I eat them all? Oh well. They are SO delicious, I won't ask too many questions!)

And I have news! My swashbuckling novelette for adults, "The Art of Deception," was just published in the Insert Title Here anthology, edited by the fabulous Tehani Wessely. I should warn you guys, though, that if you look at the Goodreads description of the anthology as a whole, it won't reflect - at all - the tone of my story. This was an unthemed anthology, so it just turned out that most of the stories accepted (by some fantastic authors - I'm really looking forward to reading their stories when my author copies arrive!) were apparently pretty dark. Mine, on the other hand, really isn't.

I wrote "The Art of Deception" as a Christmas gift for my brother Dave, who had asked me for a fun, swashbuckling adventure story with lots of sword fighting, banter, and a twisty-turny plot, in the tradition of The Prisoner of Zenda/The Three Musketeers. So that's what I wrote! I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope people will enjoy reading it, too. (It's a novelette rather than a short story, because it's 12,000 words, so there's time to really settle into the adventure.)

And in nice timing for our household, Patrick just had a story publication, too - but on the other end of the length-scale. His flash-fiction "Five Things of Beauty," which was first published in Strange Horizons (and which he wrote for me as a Christmas present!) has just been republished in audio on the Toasted Cake podcast. The story itself is only 5 minutes long, and it is absolutely beautiful. Go listen!

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